POINTS OF INTEREST
The Netherlands' greatest museum, the famed Rijksmuseum's many rooms exhibit paintings, sculpture, and objects from both the West and Asia, dating to the 9th through the 20th centuries. The bulk of the collection is of 15th- to 17th-century paintings, mostly Dutch (the Rijksmuseum has the largest concentration of these masters in the world). Long the nation's pride, the museum has abandoned the art/design/history divisions and has instead put the three previously disparate collections into one panoply of art and style presented chronologically, from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Don't be surprised, in other words, if you see a vase in a 17th-century painting by Gerard Dou and the same, real Delft blue-and-white vase next to it.
When architect P. J. H. Cuypers came up with a somewhat over-the-top design in the late 1880s, it shocked Calvinist Holland. Cuypers was persuaded to tone down some of what was thought as excessive (i.e., Catholic) elements of his Neo-Renaissance decoration and soaring Neo-Gothic lines. During the building's construction, however, he did manage to sneak some of his ideas back in, and the result is a magnificent turreted building that glitters with gold leaf and is textured with sculpture.
If your time is limited, head directly for the Gallery of Honor on the upper floor to admire Rembrandt's The Night Watch with its central figure, the "stupidest man in Amsterdam," Frans Banningh Cocq. The militia buddies that surround him each paid 100 guilders to be included—quite a sum in those days, so a few of them complained about being lost in all those shadows. It should be noted that some of these shadows are formed by the daylight coming in through a small window. Daylight? Indeed, The Night Watch is actually the Day Watch but it received its name when it was obscured with soot—imagine the conservators' surprise. The rest of this "Best of the Golden Age" hall features other well-known Rembrandt paintings as well as works by Vermeer, Frans Hals, and other great artists of the 17th century.
The 20th-century section on the third floor of the two towers include works by Mondrian and the Cobra movement, a Nazi chess set (with tanks and cannons instead of castles and bishops), and even a complete Dutch-designed fighter plane, built in 1917 for the Royal Air Force.
In one wing of the ground floor are the Special Collections, room after room of antique furniture, silverware, and exquisite porcelain, including Delftware. An overlooked—and freely accessible—part of this museum is its sculpture garden formed in the triangle by Hobbemastraat and Jan Luijkenstraat.
Don't leave the country without visiting the mini-museum at Schiphol Airport (Behind passport control, Holland Boulevard between Piers E and F; free; daily 6 am–8 pm).